Welcome to Saturday Book Review time! On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value. Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.
Are you an Anglo-Catholic? Or do you have high-church leanings? If yes, then this is a book you’ll probably appreciate: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book. Despite the name, it’s not a Prayer Book in the sense of the Common Prayer Book; this little volume does not deal with liturgy as such. In the three-fold rule of prayer scheme of things, this deals primarily with personal or private devotion and prayer.
Note: This review pertains to its 2014 edition; it has predecessors which may be rather different.
The Table of Contents give you a good idea of what’s inside here.
- The Christian’s Obligations
- Daily Prayer
- Penitence and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
- The Holy Eucharist
- Eucharistic Devotions
- Devotions through the Christian Year
- Topical Devotions
- The Holy Hour
The Daily Prayer and Holy Eucharist sections contain prayers and explanations of the primary liturgies of the Prayer Book tradition, approximating or summarizing the Daily Office in short form and providing devotional aids for following along in the Communion service. The Penitence section includes a re-print of The Reconciliation of a Penitent, found in the 1979 Prayer Book.
The Eucharistic, calendar-based, and other topical-based devotions and prayers are drawn from a wide swath of Church history and are unashamedly catholic in outlook. I wouldn’t say it’s so Papist as to be un-Anglican, though some of its content definitely would be rejected by the more ardent low-churchmen, and it does admittedly slightly stretch the boundaries set out in the Anglican formularies (an issue that virtually all ‘parties’ of modern Anglicanism are guilty of in one way or another, to be fair).
As a parent, I have enjoyed the prayer for one’s children. As a priest, I have enjoyed the “Nine Days of Prayer for One Deceased” both for my own grieving and for being ready to help others in theirs.
There are two cautions I must raise regarding this book, however.
- It is written to integrate with the 1979 Prayer Book. As we’ve seen in a previous review, the 1979 Prayer Book is not the best representative of Anglican tradition by a long shot. For most of my readers that book is also now completely obsolete, if you ever used it at all. That makes some features of this book, especially its walk-through of the Communion service, rather out of date (if not just plain incorrect).
- It shows signs of current Episcopalian liberalism. Because this is offered as a source of traditionalist devotional material, it does have an inherent liturgical conservatism to it, but certain issues like sexual morality in the examination of conscience end up reading a bit oddly. Theological precision has long gone out the window in Episcopalianism, too, so one cannot count on the content of this book being well-tethered, to the Anglican formularies or otherwise.
The ratings in short:
This is a very user-friendly book. It’s meant for quick & easy use, without training; you don’t have to know your way around the Book of Common Prayer. It has explanations and introductions in each chapter or section, much of which is useful to non-Episcopalians.
Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
This is where mileage may vary. The fact that it’s conformed to the 1979 Prayer Book is an inconvenience for us in the ACNA. The fact that it’s specifically Anglo-Catholic may take it down a notch or two if you’re opposed to Anglo-Catholicism (making it a 1 or a 2). But if you’re comfortable with that tradition, there are plenty of things in here one can still enjoy and use.
Reference Value: 2/5
Again, the 1979 connection decreases its reference value outside of Episcopalianism. But if you want to look at some classic catholic devotions (like devotions to Mary and the Saints, prayers for the departed, stations of the cross, etc.) through some sort of Anglican filter then this can still be pretty educational. It’s primarily a devotional book, though.
All in all, I’m happy to have received a copy, and was happy to pass along another copy to someone else. It’s nice to pick up every now and then. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or recommend it to others at this point, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a revised edition compatible with the 2019 Prayer Book being made someday.